Baseball and softball are at the mercy of Mother Nature more than most sports because they are played outdoors on a field with two very different playing surfaces – grass and dirt. When rain occurs on or shortly before game day, the condition of the field, especially the infield dirt, may become an issue. When this happens, WMLL uses experience and the best information available to decide if field conditions are suitable for play. The WMLL Board of Directors, Executive Director, grounds crew, coaches, families and players certainly share the same goal after a rain event: to allow teams to play as many games as possible without risking player injury due to unsafe conditions.
WMLL grounds crew
WMLL is lucky to have a professional, experienced grounds crew led by Torrie Lindner, the Head Groundskeeper. While the grounds crew works full-time from spring through fall, their budget and resources are limited and the normally 2.5 to 3.5-person crew will be working with only 1.5-people for the remainder of the season. Paul Zwaska, the volunteer Buildings and Grounds Oversight Advisor to the WMLL Board of Directors, advises the grounds crew. Paul brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from his 15 years as Head Groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles along with a BS in Soil Science (with a Specialty in Turf and Grounds Management) from UW-Madison.
Prevention before a rain event
The grounds crew uses construction and maintenance practices to create fields that are safe, attractive, high-quality and durable. They monitor weather forecasts closely and adjust practices as needed to help the fields get through rain events as quickly and with as little disturbance to the game schedule as possible. WMLL also uses tarps on the mound and plate area of all fields to keep these critical areas dry.
Natural drying after a rain event
While many people mistakenly believe that clear skies and a bit of sun quickly make fields playable after a rain, in reality drying takes time. Many factors influence how long drying takes, including:
- the soil makeup of the field and its condition prior to the rain event
- the amount, duration and intensity of the rainfall
- the weather conditions after the rain that affect field drying speed, including sky condition (sunny, cloudy, etc.), humidity level, temperature, wind speed and direction, and additional precipitation
Evaluating conditions after a rain event
Sometimes a field is very obviously unplayable, such as when there are puddles, soft muddy areas, etc. At other times, however, a field may appear deceivingly dry because the topdressing material used on the surface dries more quickly than the soil beneath it. The grounds crew’s training and experience enable them to evaluate field conditions in a thorough and reliable way. As part of their evaluations, the grounds crew inspects the field carefully and conducts a number of tests. One critical test is “lateral stability” of the infield soil. The infield soil can be dry enough to walk on, but if the lateral movement of the footing sheers easily (when planting to make a throw, pushing off to run, etc.), then the field is not ready. Allowing kids to play on fields with poor lateral stability is not safe as cleats provide little help under these conditions. WMLL will not return a field to play until the “lateral stability” of the infield is safe over 90% of the infield surface.
Field repairs after a rain event
After evaluating conditions, the grounds crew works on the drier areas of the field (including the mound and plate areas, which were tarped) while natural drying is occurring elsewhere. As soon as infield drying has progressed sufficiently, the grounds crew will begin repair work there.
Deciding if games will be played
Throughout the day, Brian Beutter, WMLL’s Executive Director, checks in with the grounds crew to discuss current and anticipated game-time field conditions. The Executive Director may also help evaluate field conditions onsite as needed. Using the best information available, the Executive Director determines whether or not that day’s games should be played by declaring each of WMLL’s three fields, “Playable”, “Unplayable” or “Questionable”
- Playable = This field is in good condition for play. Games on this field will be played as scheduled
- Unplayable = Conditions are not suitable for play. Games on this field are cancelled.
- Questionable = Adverse conditions may interfere with play. The decision to play or cancel games will be made at a later (specified) time. This can include a game-time decision at the field.
As a general rule, the Executive Director provides a preliminary update on field conditions every game day morning and a final determination at 2:30 PM. On occasion, however, circumstances may alter this timing and/or warrant additional updates.
Communicating field conditions
WMLL communicates field conditions in a variety of ways so that WMLL families and volunteers can select the method that is most convenient for them. While coaches and team reps often also share this information, it is most efficient to get updates directly from WMLL. The options available to WMLL families and volunteers include:
- Checking the field condition page on WMLL’s website HERE
- Signing up for field condition email alerts HERE
- Calling WMLL’s field condition hotline at 274-6556
- Following WMLL on Twitter or Facebook
- Looking for field condition updates on the sign by WMLL’s parking lot
Yes, we’re human!
Since the process for making these decisions is complex and the many natural variables cannot be predicted with certainty, it’s not surprising that, on occasion, WMLL makes a mistake when deciding to cancel games in advance. Please understand that WMLL works very hard at this and endeavors to make the correct call, and that our decisions are solely focused on the safety of players, umpires, coaches and spectators.
INTERESTED IN HELPING OUT?
Determining field conditions is a critically important function that takes time and effort and comes with a lot of responsibility. WMLL would welcome committed volunteers on a regular or as-needed basis and provide the training necessary so they can assist the grounds crew and Executive Director by checking fields, evaluating conditions and providing updates. If you are interested in helping or learning more about these opportunities, please contact Brian Beutter at firstname.lastname@example.org.